CLEMSON, S.C. — What Wake Forest did well offensively in the first 30 minutes against Clemson on Tuesday night disappeared in the final 10.
And so the Deacons’ woes continue against Clemson, this time with a 71-68 loss at Littlejohn Coliseum.
“Yeah, it got away from us,” said senior guard Andrien White, who led the Deacons with 22 points. “We’ve gotta look forward, we’ve got a tough opponent coming in on Sunday and we’ve gotta look forward to that. Get back to the drawing board.”
The drawing board on this one has a line somewhere between the first 30 minutes or so and the final 10. Wake Forest (9-9, 2-6 ACC) hasn’t won consecutive league games since 2017 and, following Sunday night’s conquest of Boston College, was in prime position to collect a pair of ACC wins in a 50-hour span.
Olivier Sarr scored six points in the first 4½ minutes of the second half and it looked like Wake Forest would be able to put some distance between it and the host Tigers (10-8, 4-4). But Sarr picked up his third foul at the 14:51 mark and went to the bench until there was 8:17 left.
He went to the bench with 16 points, and that’s how many he ended with. His 12 rebounds gave him his second straight double-double.
“I mean, obviously fouling ain’t helping me. Getting on the bench isn’t helping at all, so … kind of, yeah,” Sarr said when asked if he lost rhythm while on the bench for 6½ minutes.
Coach Danny Manning said Sarr should’ve gotten to the free-throw line more (he was 2-for-4, missing two free throws in the second half) and that he’d need to watch tape to see what Clemson did defensively against the 7-footer.
“I would’ve liked to see him shoot a few more free throws. We’ll go back and look at the tape and kind of see what they did,” Manning said.
Wake Forest led 56-51 with 9:19 after a Jahcobi Neath driving layup, but that was the Deacons’ last field goal for nearly six minutes. In the next six possessions, the Deacons missed all five shots, committed one turnover and missed two free throws.
That allowed Clemson to turn a five-point deficit into a 60-56 lead with 4:36 left, and the Tigers never trailed for the rest of the game.
Brandon Childress scored five points — three free throws and a long 2-pointer — on back-to-back possessions, which accounted for Wake Forest’s only points in a span of 8:35. The Deacons had four possessions when trailing by 65-61: the first two ended with Torry Johnson missing 3-pointers, the third ended with Isaiah Mucius missing a 3 and the fourth saw Mucius called for a charge.
“At that point in the ballgame, we didn’t need to necessarily shoot 3s,” Manning said. “Even late, we’re down four and you need to score as quickly as possible, flip it around and stop the clock. Definitely, we should’ve attacked the paint a little bit more.”
Manning also lamented Wake Forest’s lack of free throws, particularly in the second half.
“Once we got into the bonus in the second half, we didn’t continue to press the issue,” Manning said.
Wake Forest has not won at Clemson since 2009 and has lost 12 of the last 13 meetings with the Tigers, including all seven in Manning’s tenure.
Clemson completed a five-game stretch against North Carolina teams with four wins, one each over each school. The Tigers were coming off a loss at N.C. State on Saturday.
The first half of this game was one of the best halves of basketball by the Deacons in some time — perhaps going back to the Dec. 14 win over Xavier and certainly the best of the calendar year.
Wake Forest stretched its lead to 10 twice in the first half, worked the ball inside to Sarr (10 points, 6 rebounds in the first half), benefited from crisp ball movement to shoot 50% (14-for-28), outrebounded Clemson 21-11 and got 12 points from an efficient White (4-for-7 from the field).
Things went a little sideways for the Deacons in the final two minutes of the first half. Leading by nine and after forcing a shot-clock violation, Wake Forest turned it over and gave Clemson a fast-break dunk. Clemson narrowed the lead to 37-31 before halftime.
Chaundee Brown was out of action for the fifth straight game, but seems to be on the precipice of returning.
It probably bodes well for his return that the Deacons aren’t in action until Sunday against Virginia — another team that Manning hasn’t beaten in his six seasons at Wake Forest.